Captain Awkward has a thread on lateness and keeping in contact with people who are constantly late or no-shows. Her answer is worth reading, because she takes both sides seriously: the way being late feeds into anxiety or depression disorders sometimes (and has for her), and the way to structure social engagements with people who are in that place (whether due to mental health issues or not, it doesn’t require disclosure).
She’s specifically asked that people who are good with time and todo lists (I am, relatively) not drop in with “handy hints”, which is fair enough, but now I’m finding some of the”just loosen up, I have rejected our culture’s terrible clock ticking obsession, and I think that makes me a better person” (uh, paraphrased) comments irritating. I’m posting here rather than there because of the relative privilege of being good with my culture’s approach to time, though.
However, opting out is also a pretty privileged thing to do, honestly. Here’s the big clock related things I can’t opt out of, right now: my son’s childcare, who (like most) fine about $1 a minute for late pickups. Moreover, those people also have children to pick up and errands to run, so a significantly late arrival from me would ruin at least three families’ evenings. (Two staff members are required on premises at all times, so one late parent is two late workers.)
Parenting is by no means the only type of problem here too (look at some writings on spoon budgeting some time: what happens when you are an hour late for someone who set aside spoons to see you?) but it’s a pretty typical set of examples. So are people who work in a great number of jobs, especially low pay and insecure jobs.
You can be over-scheduled in a privileged way (racing from piano lessons to dinner parties), but you can be over-scheduled without that (racing from end of shift to the hard childcare deadline to the hospital’s visiting hours to the mechanics for the 6th car repair this season), too. So, I find it difficult to respond to a fairly simple analysis of “I figure that half an hour doesn’t matter that much, or shouldn’t! We all survived before mobile phones [or clocks]! Just say no!” When your needs are dictated by other people armed with clocks and mobile phones, there may not be an exit sign visible.
There are a lot of living cultures with looser time constraints than the one I live in. (People talk about a “polychronic-monochronic” axis of cultures, which Wikipedia tells me is due to the anthropologist Edward Hall.) There are ways to systemically structure things so that half an hour doesn’t matter that much. But, when you don’t live in such a culture or can’t stay in one, it’s just not that easy. But when is “just say no” ever the solution to anything serious?